Michael B. Jordan admits to being embarrassed that he didn’t know anything about Bryan Stevenson. But, once the actor learned of the lawyer and social activist at the center of director Destin Daniel Cretton’s Just Mercy, there was no doubt he would take the role. “I felt a sense of responsibility to run toward this story and use my platform to get it out to the masses,” says Jordan of Stevenson’s quest to free a wrongfully imprisoned man on death row (played by Jamie Foxx). “Because I think he’s a real-life superhero.”
While the Fantastic Four and Black Panther star, 32, knows plenty about superheroes, he enjoyed going down in scale to “really touch the community and shine a light on real issues,” namely, criminal-justice reform, mass incarceration, and racial bias in the judicial system. Feeling an extra sense of “caution and respect” playing a real person, Jordan hopes his portrayal of Stevenson sparks conversations and calls the audience to action. “I want people to feel something after they watch this movie,” he says. “I want them to go home and figure out what their ‘thing’ is. You don’t have to be some fancy, educated defense attorney to attack this issue. Each person can do something to be a part of the fight, to be a part of the change.”
And Jordan is walking the walk when it comes to being a part of the change, helping lead the push for diversity in Hollywood. Following Frances McDormand’s 2018 Oscars speech about inclusion riders, which aim to improve gender and racial representation on both sides of the camera, Jordan announced that his production company, Outlier Society, would use the initiative on all future projects, with the first being Just Mercy. But he didn’t stop there, further collaborating with WarnerMedia to implement the inclusion policy in all company-wide projects in the hopes of “opening up doors for the next generations of people from all walks of life.”
“One of the top studios in the world is saying that we’re backing this message, so I think that sets a precedent,” says Jordan of WarnerMedia, which will issue annual diversity reports to ensure progress. “We have a long way to go, but it was a great step. You see people who have been working in their craft for 30 years, and for them to finally be a department head, they’re walking around with pride and excelling and owning that position. That’s a powerful thing, and I’m just really proud and honored to be a part of that history.”
Just Mercy, which also stars Brie Larson and Rob Morgan, opens in theaters on Dec. 25.
For more on the most anticipated fall movies, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly at Barnes & Noble, or buy it here now. (The November issue will be available on newsstands starting Oct. 23.) Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.